62 Novels Judged Not Funny Enough for Wodehouse Prize

The Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize is the United Kingdom’s only literary award for comic writing. Last year, it went to Bridget Jones’s Baby by Helen Fielding.  Two works tied for the prize in 2016, The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray and The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild. I believe we mentioned these works and the Alexander McCall Smith’s 2015 win earlier in this space.

But the 62 novels submitted for consideration this year were only funny enough to produce “many a wry smile,” not the “unanimous, abundant laughter” the judges were hoping to have.

Judge and publisher David Campbell said, “We look forward to awarding a larger rollover prize next year to a hilariously funny book.”

“There were a lot of witty submissions, bloody good novels, but they weren’t comic novels. The alchemy was not there.” (via Prufrock News)

via GIPHY

Percy’s Love in the Ruins Like a Coal Mine Canary

Ralph C. Wood writes that Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins is darn prescient, if that’s something one can say.

“A serious novel about the destruction of the United States and the end of the world,” Percy declared, “should perform the function of prophecy in reverse. The novelist writes about the coming end in order to warn against present ills and so avert the end.” He isn’t writing as a biblical prophet, but neither can he deny that his allegiances are fundamentally Christian. His own vision of reality is confessedly “incarnational, historical, predicamental.” In an increasingly pagan and hostile age, Percy doubted the efficacy of a serene Christian humanism. Better to serve as the canary in the coal mine, so as to detect the asphyxiating gas that sickens unto death.

Wood offers no quick blog post on Percy’s novel. He gets into some of its heavy criticism, which, if you not read the book yet, may run it into the ground. (via Prufrock News)

‘Deadly Lies,’ by Chris Collett

Deadly Lies

I read and reviewed one novel in the DI Mariner police procedural series, and was so impressed that I decided to go back to the beginning and read them all. Deadly Lies is the book that introduces Inspector Thomas Mariner of Birmingham, England.

When a young journalist named Eddie Barham is found dead in his home of a drug overdose, the initial assumption is suicide. But Tom Mariner is not convinced, especially since he happened to see Eddie, alive and well, in a pub talking to a woman shortly before the time of death. He wants to locate that woman and find out what she knows.

Meanwhile Eddie’s sister Anna, a career woman, is left responsible for their brother Jamie, who is severely autistic. At first she’s overwhelmed – Jamie needs constant supervision, and the demands are killing both her career and her social life. One man she is seeing a lot of, though, is Inspector Mariner, whom she finds very attractive. He reciprocates her interest.

Meanwhile, crime scene evidence shows that this was definitely a murder, and somebody is trying to find and destroy Eddie’s records. What was he investigating, that would be worth killing to keep secret?

The answer, I’m afraid, was a bit of a cliché. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the journey through the story for its own sake. I like author Chris Collett’s writing; I like his characters. I suspect his politics and mine wouldn’t coexist well, but some very good values shine through the books I’ve read so far – especially the value of all human lives, and the importance of people having children.

Recommended, with cautions for language and sexual situations.

‘Viking Legacy’ is here!

Viking Legacy

I’ve been telling you about this book for — it seems — about half my life. (Actually it’s two or three years. Maybe four). But it’s here at last — Viking Legacy, by Torgrim Titlestad. Translated by your humble servant.

The book has two main themes — one, that Viking democratic traditions of governance were influential in European history. And two, that the Icelandic sagas, while not inerrant, do provide useful information which, coordinated with other historical research, can shed light on the political history of Scandinavia.

The Man in Full Rests

Author Tom Wolfe,  “probably the most skillful writer in America” according to William F. Buckley, died yesterday at age 88.

“Whether profiling One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey and his hippie pals the Merry Pranksters or America’s first astronauts, Wolfe had a dramatist’s gift for the telling detail and for crafting page-turning suspense,” writes Rolling Stone’s Tim Grierson.

“Never try to fit in; it’s sheer folly,” he once advised. “Be an odd, eccentric character. People will volunteer information to you.”

Wolfe had a style bound to inspire countless bad imitations. You may see some on the socials this week and next.

Terry Teachout writes, “I confess to being shaken by the news of Wolfe’s death. I last saw him in the flesh a year or so ago, and he looked at once frail and somehow ageless. I couldn’t imagine a world without him then. I still can’t.

Life and Death of Brick and Mortars

Columnist David Leonhardt writes in the NY Times, “It’s depressing to imagine that more than 600 Barnes & Noble stores might simply disappear. But the death of Barnes & Noble is now plausible.” It seems people don’t buy enough books in person, but they do buy coffee and borrow books to read while they drink. (via Prufrock News)

Perhaps running a large network of books retail is no longer sustainable. Some recent report tout the health of independent bookstores around the country. At least six stores are successfully attracting customers in the broad Pittsburgh area.

“I think people want conversation, they want a human connection,” Susan Hans O’Connor, a bookstore owner, states. “They want to talk about ideas; they want to talk about books they’ve already read or that they haven’t read that they should read.”

This agrees with a report from Detroit, which notes the growth of indy bookstores in that city.

Erin Gold writes:

And there are a lot of reasons Detroit and other urban communities should want to keep their independent bookstores around. At a time when face-to-face interactions are becoming less common, independent bookstores act as a kind of community center. They hear first-hand from their customers what is important to the community and respond through book curation, author visits, and community partnerships.

In his recent study on independent bookstore business, Harvard Business Professor Ryan Raffaelli found that independent bookstores have become even more valuable in today’s world where so much of an individual’s free time can be spent online. “People are still eager to connect, and indie bookstores make that happen,” Raffaelli says. “They create a safe space for individuals to debate new and important ideas with friends and neighbors.”

Death of a Newspaper

It’s a truth universally acknowledged by those who don’t let sentiment cloud their thinking that the newspaper’s time will soon pass—except for rare titles like the New York Times and a few others that can attract national audiences. “The old model of a general-purpose newspaper fit the industrial age when advertisers needed mass audiences to sell the products of mass production. But the marketplace no longer supports the model of a few messages to many people. Now it is many messages, each to a few people,” Meyer tells me via email.

Jack Shafer reviews the common story told of a newspaper’s death and how it may be the other way around. He notes the warning signs of the death of this medium have been issued as early as 1976. (via Prufrock News)

‘Suspicion,’ by Joseph Finder

Suspicion

Some time back a commenter on this blog recommended that I read Suspicion, by Joseph Finder. The suggestion fell through the cracks (in my head), but I’ve read it now. It is indeed a powerful, compelling thriller. Maybe too compelling for my delicate nerves.

The set-up is a classic Hitchcockian dilemma, in which a regular, decent guy gets caught up in criminal matters way beyond his experience. Danny Goodman, the hero, is a writer, not outstandingly successful. He’s missed a book deadline, but for good reason. His ex-wife died and left him with the care of his teenage daughter, Abby. Abby loves the private school she’s been attending, but it’s way beyond Danny’s means. He dreads taking her out of it, after the trauma of losing her mother.

And then he gets thrown a life preserver. Abby’s best friend is the daughter of a fabulously wealthy money manager, Tom Galvin. Tom considers Abby a much-needed good influence, so he offers Danny a large loan. After struggling with his pride, Danny accepts. It helps that he genuinely likes Galvin as a friend.

And then the hammer falls. Danny gets pulled in by a couple DEA agents. They tell him Galvin is working for a drug cartel, and Danny’s acceptance of his money makes him a co-conspirator under the law. He has a choice – work with them to build a case against Galvin, or go to prison himself.

Danny now has to be a spy and an informer, balancing his love for his daughter against his conscience and his friendship with Galvin. Gradually he will learn that there are wheels within wheels, and that the situation is more complicated – and dangerous – than he had suspected in his greatest fears. He will also learn that he’s capable of things he never dreamed of.

Suspicion is a well-written thriller, one that pulls you in like a shirt wrapped around a washing machine agitator. I found the perils and dangers genuinely distressing, and I empathized deeply with Danny Goodman. In fact, I’m not sure I’ll read another from this very accomplished author, just because I’m not sure I can handle the tension.

But if you’re looking for a really compelling thriller, Suspicion delivers big time. The usual cautions for adult themes apply.

Ascension Day

Ascension Bamberg Apocalypse
The Ascension of Christ” from the Bamberg Apocalypse, 11th Century

Today is Ascension Day in the Christian calendar. I won’t tell you what it’s called in Norwegian, because you’ll laugh.

All right, I’ll tell you if you insist. But don’t laugh.

Kristi Himmelfartsdagen.

Ascension Day is one of those sadly neglected church festivals that’s actually pretty meaningful. Ascension Day ties up the bow of the Resurrection, you might say. It finishes the operation, resolves the chord.

It has a number of implications. I saw a list today, and there were more than I’d ever thought about.

But I’ll mention the one that I remember, one Francis Schaeffer mentioned in one of his books.

Ascension Day verifies the physicality of Christian faith.

If you believe (and if you don’t, you’re not really a Christian) that Jesus rose from the dead with a body – a functioning body that could be touched and that ate food – then where is that body now?

The Ascension tells us that it’s with God in Heaven. Not some “metaphysical other.” Not the land of spirits and ghosts and legends. Some physical place. You can’t hide a body in a myth.

A place, as He promised, where we will be also someday.

Happy Ascension Day!

Defending the Faith; Denying the Image

This is a moving article on how Christians, particular Reformed believers and Presbyterians, have sat beside the biblical lawyer in justifying themselves by asking who is actually our neighbors, by which we meant who did we not have to love in accord with the second commandment.

tl;dr – Mainstream conservative Calvinism neither caused American chattel slavery, nor cured it, but it capitulated to it, was complicit in it, and cooperated with it. Nineteenth century confessional Calvinism, especially in the South, codified, confirmed, corroborated and was coopted by American pro-slavery ideology, and then perpetuated that ideology in segregation after slavery was gone. While all along, the theological cure for slavery (and its underlying racism) sat quietly ignored in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms: the imago Dei, neighbor love (along with, esp., the WLC expositions of the 6th and 10th commandments), the communion of the saints, and especially justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (see Galatians 2, as deployed by John Newton and William Wilberforce in their arguments against the slave trade and slavery)!

Defending the Faith; Denying the Image – 19th Century American Confessional Calvinism in Faithfulness and Failure

 

‘Flotsam and Jetsam,’ by Keith Moray

Flotsam & Jetsam

It’s nearly pointless to do a review of yet another Torquil McKinnon mystery by Keith Moray. Torquil, as you may recall, is police inspector on the fictional Hebridean island of West Uist. He is a motorcycle enthusiast and a bagpiper, and the nephew of the local priest. He is supported by some likeable constables, and the local newspaper man (off and on).

Flotsam & Jetsam is a rather complicated story, involving the drowning of a young woman, the murder of a famous entomologist, abused cats and dogs, professional sports gambling, a popular television show along the lines of “Antiques Roadshow,” drug smuggling, burglaries, and several other themes. Also a couple members of the cast of characters fall in love above their leagues, and enjoy success – because these are essentially happy stories.

Oh yes – Torquil acquires a pet. You can’t get more cozy than that.

Good fun; nothing much to caution you about. Recommended for light reading.

‘Killer Lies,’ by Chris Collett

Killer Lies

This mystery is part of a series of police procedurals by Chris Collett, starring Inspector Thomas Mariner, who operates in Birmingham, England. Mariner, the hero of Killer Lies, is a divorcee, involved in a new relationship with a remarkably patient woman. She needs to be. It’s not that he’s a bad man, but he has issues. He was raised by a single mother back before single mothers were cool, and his personal list of deflective habits makes it hard for him to sustain a relationship, especially under the kinds of pressure this adventure ushers in.

The story begins with the murder of Sir Geoffrey Ryland, a prominent government official who worked to uncover old police misbehavior and reverse miscarriages of justice. He and his wife are shot in their car one night, but the police believe the real target was their chauffeur, a man once convicted of drug dealing, but whom Ryland had gotten released. Mariner gets involved in the investigation when he learns, through a friend, that there was a puzzling connection to himself.

Then Mariner experiences a devastating event that leaves him shaken and a friend injured. He has never entirely worked through the challenges of his childhood and the death of his mother. Now he’s suffering from full-blown PTSD and refusing all offers of help. If he can’t get some answers and fill in some blanks in his own history, his relationship and his career may be ruined.

I was fascinated by Killer Lies. The plot was complex, and Thomas Mariner was a compelling character. It’s always kind of frustrating when you read a story where a large part of the challenge comes from the main character simply refusing to do some “simple” thing. Mariner might have been very annoying, but author Collett manages to convey his essential vulnerability and fear. At least for me, it made the story a grabber.

Recommended, with the usual adult cautions. Mariner is portrayed as an agnostic, but there’s a decent Catholic priest in the book. The first novel in the series is Deadly Lies, and I’ll be reading that.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture